If you’re into randomly selected death lotteries, then Circle, which can be streamed on Netflix, is just the film for you. This tense science-fiction psychological horror-thriller will make you question your own morality and sense of humanity, and for that reason it became an instant cult-classic upon its release in 2015. But like many movies that get the video-on-demand treatment, Circle was overlooked, and that’s why we’re here to talk about it.
Inspired by 12 Angry Men, Circle has a simple, yet menacing plot. 50 strangers wake up in a mysterious room, standing in two rows of circles.
Circle takes place in a single room, and boasts a considerably large cast of 50 relatively unknown actors. In fact, a quick glance on the movie’s Wikipedia page will show you that there are hardly any blue links on the actor’s names, and most characters don’t even get proper noun treatment.
Normally this does not bode well for a film, because more often than not, you need some star power to sell a movie. But in the case of this harrowing tale, the artistic choice to keep the audience from getting too attached to the characters makes sense because a lot of them die.
Inspired by 12 Angry Men, Circle has a simple, yet menacing plot. 50 strangers wake up in a mysterious room, standing in two rows of circles. It doesn’t take long to find out that somebody will get killed every two minutes, and their body will be dragged out of the room. To make matters worse, if anybody tries to escape, they will also get killed, and the clock is always ticking.
What makes Circle so effective in its storytelling is that there is no visible antagonist or monster. But when we find out that the surviving participants can actually cast votes over who meets their demise next, we learn that there’s a monster inside of each and every individual subjected to this test.
The monster comes in the form of rationalizing who is less worthy of surviving based on race, age, preexisting illnesses, and other factors, and it doesn’t take long for the group to break off into blocs who disagree over how to navigate their way out of such a torturous situation.
Critics compared the thematic elements of the film to The Twilight Zone for its overarching moral conundrum, and more recent reviews suggest that some themes run parallel to 2021’s Squid Game in regard to its “kill-or-be-killed” plot.
Circle’s storytelling illustrates one of those psychological experiments that is hard to watch play out, but will keep you engaged throughout the entirety of its tight, 87-minute run time. And what makes the entire nightmare scenario so real to viewers is the fact that the victims in this experiment aren’t necessarily bad people, but ones who have potential to make heavy-handed decisions about other people’s lives while in a heightened state.
But still, we watch sympathetically and with horror as they not only try to figure out how to buy time to stop their fellow captors from being systematically killed off, but also try to spare themselves.
Some difficulties came about during the production of Circle. Filming a movie with a small ensemble cast across various settings is one thing, but requiring all 50 cast members to be available every day to shoot on a small set made for a tense filming experience.
Michael Nardelli, the star and producer of the film suggested that the psychological extremes that were faced while filming made it difficult for the cast to wind down after a long day of shooting.
In Circle no one is safe, and this form of storytelling makes for inherently compelling drama.
Despite having a relatively soft release, Circle fared relatively well on the critical front with a 57 percent critical score on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics compared the thematic elements of the film to The Twilight Zone for its overarching moral conundrum, and more recent reviews suggest that some themes run parallel to 2021’s Squid Game in regard to its “kill-or-be-killed” plot.
Circle was shot in its entirety within a two-week period, and this kind of immediacy only adds to the suspense. You’ll find yourself sitting at the edge of your seat wondering who will be next to meet their fate, as well as wondering what kind of evil force is orchestrating the entire experiment in the first place.
In Circle no one is safe, and this form of storytelling makes for inherently compelling drama. You’d think that a movie set in a single room would be a drag, but directors Aaron Hann and Mario Miscione knew the assignment. The pacing is so deliberate, and life-or-death decisions are made at such an alarming rate, that you can’t help but get sucked in.